Renovation looking likelier for Sullivan County Nursing Home as new facility would cost a bundle

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/25/2021 9:57:48 PM
Modified: 2/25/2021 9:57:46 PM

UNITY — Sullivan County officials appear to be leaning toward a $54 million renovation of the existing county nursing home, rather than seeking to build a new one due to the higher costs of new construction.

Officials estimate an entirely new nursing home either at the county complex in Unity or elsewhere could cost somewhere between $75 million and $80 million, said Mary Bourque, the county’s director of facilities and operations, during a Monday meeting of the Executive Finance Committee held in person in Newport and also streamed on Zoom and Facebook Live.

Building new also would require returning to the drawing board to design a new project, which could delay the start of construction by a couple of years, Bourque said. It also could involve purchasing land for an additional $500,000 and moving away from the Unity complex, which would add about $1 million in annual operating expenses, she said.

Should officials approve the renovation project as designed, “the wheels could be turning right away with a construction start in early fall,” she said.

The 156-bed nursing home, which sits in Unity next to the county’s jail, has antiquated heating, plumbing and electrical systems, County Manager Derek Ferland said.

County officials have been discussing improvements to the nursing home for about five years. During that time, three factors have pushed the estimated costs of the project upward: changes to federal regulations and building codes; increases in the costs of construction materials and labor; and the need to do the renovation project in phases to minimize the effect on residents and workers in the facility, Ferland said.

“If we’re going to stay in the nursing home business as a county then we have to do something,” he said.

In September, the Sullivan County delegation rejected the renovation proposal, which at that point was estimated to cost $49.5 million, by a vote of 11-1.

As proposed, the renovation would include gutting the nursing home’s Stearns building, making aesthetic improvements to the McConnell building and demolishing the Sanders building to clear space for an 82,000-square-foot addition.

The Sanders building was constructed in 1931, Stearns in 1975 and McConnell in 1997.

The plan would add space to residents’ rooms, reduce the ratio of residents per bathroom and increase the amount of communal space.

At the time of the September vote, delegates voiced interest in exploring the possibility of relocating the nursing home from Unity to another part of the county, as well as concerns about undertaking a project of that scale during the COVID-19 pandemic and just before the November election.

But after Bourque’s presentation on Monday, officials expressed support for returning to the renovation project.

The three county commissioners in the meeting, Chairman George Hebert, R-Goshen; Vice Chairman Bennie Nelson, R-Newport; and Joe Osgood, R-Claremont, all said they were in favor of the renovation.

“I don’t understand putting more money into it when the work that’s been done on this project puts us within code for several years to come,” Hebert said. “I think it’s a great project. I’m totally in favor of it.”

The Executive Finance Committee is expected to reconvene within the next week to vote on a recommendation to the full delegation. Should officials opt to move forward, the delegation would need to approve the project by April 30 so that the county can apply to the New Hampshire Municipal Bond Bank in time for the July bond sale, Ferland said in a Wednesday email.

In addition to the renovation plan being the lower-cost option, Ferland said that it makes sense to move forward now while “interest rates are at historic lows.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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